The Eight Building Blocks of Small Business CRM

By: Andrew Friedenthal on January 16, 2017

Business today is becoming increasingly consumer-focused, something you ignore at your own peril. Without a focus on how you treat and interact with your customers, you’ll find yourself falling behind your competitors.

Customer relationship management (CRM) is thus a vital component of any contemporary business strategy, enabling you to better track and interact with customers.

But, implementing excellent CRM is a complex, complicated process that requires keeping track of a lot of moving parts. CRM software can certainly help, but you also need a plan to make sure you’re using that software to create a solid CRM framework that will support your business efforts.

Fortunately, Gartner has already laid out a framework, in their series of reports on “The Eight Building Blocks of CRM” (all Gartner linked articles are available to Gartner clients).

The report overview notes that, “As observed in conversations with over 200 organizations, we found that CRM leaders who can address all eight blocks . . . are more successful than those who put too much weight on a few of the blocks or miss some altogether.”

The Eight Building Blocks of CRM*


A version of this image originally appeared in: “The Eight Building Blocks of CRM: Overview,” by Ed Thompson, (content available to Gartner clients)

While Gartner’s series is focused on large, enterprise-level businesses, we’re taking each of Gartner’s eight building blocks and breaking them down so your small or midsize business (SMB) can use them to implement a solid CRM framework.

This should, in fact, be easier for you as an SMB than it is for those larger businesses; as Gartner analyst Ed Thompson, the author of the report overview, notes, “The smaller the business, the easier it is.”

1. Vision

What Gartner Says:

In “The Eight Building Blocks of CRM: Vision,” Gartner analyst Sandy Shen explains that in order to have a successful CRM vision, companies must:

“Understand the guiding principles of successful customer-centric strategies to help them develop a vision of what their organization wants to deliver to customers.”

“Vision” is the broadest of the eight building blocks, and thus, in some ways, it is the most difficult one to achieve. There is no step-by-step process to creating a vision, and the final product should be more specific and actionable than a vague mission statement.

According to Shen, in order to effectively build a vision, a company must achieve the following objectives (among others):

  • Understand what CRM and a CRM vision are

  • Establish their organization’s personality

  • Foster a culture that supports the CRM vision

  • Communicate the CRM vision to employees

On an enterprise business level, rolling out a vision across a large organization and instilling it in hundreds of employees can take years. Fortunately, establishing a clear-cut, well-communicated CRM vision is a little bit easier for SMBs.

How You Can Apply It:

In this case, the techniques that will work for an enterprise business can actually be easily applied to an SMB. It doesn’t take the monetary resources or extended IT department of a large business to learn what CRM is and how you can apply it to your own customer/business model.

The important takeaway from this building block is that CRM isn’t just a fancy new tool that you can roll out without deeper consideration. Even as an SMB, you must have a clear and cohesive vision of what CRM means for your company and how to embed it within the core of what you do.

2. Strategy

What Gartner Says:

Once you have a vision in place, the next building block, “strategy,” can help you to actually implement that vision. It is also one of the three building blocks that Ed Thompson views as most crucial to SMBs: “The issue primarily [faced by SMBs] is going to be around vision, strategy and metrics.”

In “The Eight Building Blocks of CRM: Strategy,” Gartner analyst Ilona Hansen explains just how important it is to have a clear implementation strategy:

“The inability to develop, document and execute a clear CRM strategy is a major, if not the leading, cause of CRM failures.”

The best ways to combat this failure, according to Gartner’s research, are to:

  • Create your strategy in conjunction with your entire organization; don’t simply impose a management-mandated plan from above.

  • Remember that your organization’s goals will vary depending on your customers. You must always keep that customer base in mind in order for the strategy to prove effective.

How You Can Apply It:

As with “vision,” Gartner’s enterprise-level recommendations for “strategy” can also apply to SMBs. Those recommendations include setting goals and objectives by customer segment, challenging existing processes to align them with CRM strategy and setting up a clear communication plan early on (which SMBs are able to do at an advantage over larger-scale organizations).

Strategy and process are inextricably linked. A CRM strategy needs to work alongside of your company’s processes, so you may need to change preexisting processes in order to fit your new customer-centered strategy.

3. Customer Experience

What Gartner Says:

“Customer experience” is a building block that is going to vary greatly between enterprise businesses and SMBs, simply due to the differences in of the number of customers and the types of experiences they will have with a company. When speaking about enterprise-level companies in “The Eight Building Blocks of CRM: Customer Experience,” Gartner analyst Mick MacComascaigh explains:

“Organizations lack the ability to respond agilely to changes in target customer segments, let alone to changes that are relevant to individual customers and contexts.”

To counter this, MacComascaigh recommends building cross-channel, continuously engaging customer experiences and focusing on the voice of the customer via a cross-channel feedback system. For SMBs, however, the resources to do this simply might not be there.

How You Can Apply It:

Like enterprise-level businesses, SMBs need to remember that every customer desires a personalized experience. And, although SMBs may lack some of the data resources and information sources (such as expensive, robust software analytics or IT department reports) of enterprise businesses, they can take advantage of their smaller, nimbler status to create a customer experience that doesn’t synthesize personalization, but actually is personal.

As an SMB, you will likely have fewer touchpoints between yourself and your customers than a large, international corporation. Thus, you can focus more intensely on those contact points to create and refine a truly excellent customer experience that will give customers the personal touch they may be specifically hoping for from a smaller business.

4. Organizational Collaboration

What Gartner Says:

According to Gartner analyst Jim Robinson in “The Eight Building Blocks of CRM: Organizational Collaboration,” the “organizational collaboration” building block is a structural response to the fact that:

“Many organizations fail to realize that CRM is a cross-functional initiative that requires collaboration, which leads to poor project execution and poor results.”

The solutions that Robinson proposes to this problem involve several moves on the part of IT leadership to “build customer-centric understanding” across the organization.

How You Can Apply It:

The problem with these solutions for SMBs is that most small businesses, by definition, either lack an IT department or have a very small department. By that same token, however, SMBs are small enough that cross-organizational collaboration should be much easier to initiate.

The key takeaway from this building block is that SMBs need to deliberately use their size to their advantage, holding multiple cross-departmental meetings to help build, refine and enact a solid CRM plan. Responsibility and accountability must become part of the entire organizational culture, and not just lie in the hands of a few specific stakeholders.

5. Processes

What Gartner Says:

Like “organizational collaboration,” at the “processes” building block, SMBs may not be facing the same problem that enterprise-level businesses are. As Gartner analyst Brian Manusama notes in “The Eight Building Blocks of CRM: Processes,” the key issue here is that:

“Organizations find it difficult to focus on cross-functional processes.”

Once again, Gartner finds that IT leadership is responsible for addressing this problem in enterprise organizations. In those large companies, the solution is for the IT team to focus on how CRM is implemented throughout the business, rather than just at the individual departmental level.

How You Can Apply It:

Fortunately, this is less of a problem for SMBs to begin with, since individual departments aren’t necessarily as atomized and separated as they are at the enterprise level.

Once again, the key takeaway is to focus on a CRM plan that takes your entire business into consideration, and that integrates your unified vision both across and between departments, rather than allowing it to become overburdened with the individual focuses of specific stakeholders.

6. Information and Insight

What Gartner Says:

Although, the solutions differ greatly, both SMBs and enterprise-level businesses face some of the same challenges when it comes to the “information and insight” building block of CRM.

In “The Eight Building Blocks of CRM: Data and Information,” Gartner analyst Jason Daigler notes that:

“Creating, maintaining and leveraging a single view of the customer is hard to achieve internally,” and businesses “struggle to apply relevant customer information and insight to deliver appropriate customer experiences.”

The solutions that Daigler proposes to this problem involve, in part, an enterprise information management program and creating multiple levels of structures and governance, all of which apply to a large-scale organization but don’t fit as well for an SMB.

How You Can Apply It:

The final recommendation that Daigler makes regarding the “information and insight” building block is practical for SMBs:

“Strive toward a single view of the customer to optimize customer engagement, but recognize that a customer’s profile is not static.”

It is crucially important for businesses of any size to collect data about customers. In regard to CRM, it is equally important to use that data to create a customer profile that allows you to manage the engagement experience in a way that is going to create the highest number of conversions.

The same general principle applies for SMBs, albeit on a smaller scale. Look at the analytics and data provided by your CRM software, and use the information you gather to constantly refine and improve your CRM.

7. Technology

What Gartner Says:

Because of the massive differential in scale between the technological solutions employed by enterprise-level businesses and those used by SMBs, this building block differs the most significantly between the two types of businesses.

Although Gartner analyst Olive Huang’s “The Eight Building Blocks of CRM: Technology” is a crucial piece of research for larger businesses, it is not particularly useful to businesses with a more limited budget and IT infrastructure.

How You Can Apply It:

The key piece of Huang’s article that will prove useful to SMBs is her finding that businesses should:

“Use a hierarchical, weighted vendor evaluation model to ensure an objective, comprehensive and transparent CRM vendor and software evaluation process.”

Choosing a vendor can be difficult, especially without an IT department for guidance, which is why we here at Software Advice have compiled a number of resources to help you pick a CRM system that will best fulfill your needs and help you achieve your goals. Our reviews and comparisons of top CRM software let you see what other SMBs think of various vendors.

While there, you can also check out our Buyer’s Guide and FrontRunners pages for further insight about CRM vendors that specialize in SMB needs.

8. Metrics

What Gartner Says:

Much like the “technology” building block, this “metrics” building block looks very different between enterprise businesses and SMBs, simply because the level of data involved is so much larger for enterprises. Thus, Gartner analyst Mike Lowndes’ specific recommendations in “The Eight Building Blocks of CRM: Metrics” may not carry over particularly well from one to the other.

How You Can Apply It:

Though the specifics may vary, one of Lowndes’ more general recommendations holds true for businesses of all sizes:

“Use high-level metrics to drive process change, not just to measure effectiveness.”

As we mentioned when discussing “information and insight,” businesses both large and small rely upon data to create and refine the CRM experience, and the same is true when it comes to the metrics used to analyze that data.


It should be clear by now that the more specific and granular each of the Eight Building Blocks of CRM Success gets, the more it applies better to Gartner’s enterprise-level clients than to smaller businesses. However, there is still a lot that you can learn from those building blocks by taking the universal advice given therein and applying it to your CRM.

These eight building blocks are ultimately just a framework to focus on in order to support and fortify your CRM efforts, but it is a framework that has proven to be successful for many large businesses, and may be exactly what your SMB is looking for.

Next Steps

Here are some next steps as you figure out the best way to build the best CRM for your business:

  • Read user reviews of the top CRM software to see which solution will work for your SMB!

  • Email me at for more information. I’m happy to help you figure out what your own marketing software needs might be and connect you to one of our expert software advisors for a free, no-obligation consultation!

*This figure/table was published by Gartner as part of a larger research document and should be evaluated in the context of the entire document. Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.